Genre: Top-Down, Action, Smash'em Up
Ever have those moments of pure anger where you run away into your mind, turn into a huge ape and brutally pulverise everyone in the building into a pulp during a mad run to the exit? No?... Well if you did, it would look like this.
Intense Bold Beautiful Art I could just watch for hours.
Punch in the face Jazz Orchestra that is procedurally generated by how Apeshit (sorry) crazy it is getting.
Simple Controls. Move. Grab. Punch. That's it.
Satisfyingly Hard. It has that 'Just one more try' worm that burrows in your head, telling you, you can do it.
Shakes it up every level. Enemies change, surprises come into play, your strategy must evolve as you progress.
Angry Violent Ape (good stress reliever).
Too Short (only took me 2 hours to complete).
Ape in Cage. Ape Mad, Ape break out and go on a violence-induced sprint to exit
This isn't really a narrative game and that's ok. It's not meant to be and I wouldn't expect it to.
However, between the bloody corridors and guards running on fire, there is a very loose visual narrative. You start in a lab, you've been experimented on and later in the next few stages, there is a progression of sorts with each of the 4 stages occupying a different environment. All these stages (presented as Vinyl Albums, so cool) work as 4 different vignettes or slices of a great Angry Ape who just wants freedom... at any cost.
You would think it is just a smash, grab, have a nice day kind of game
But let me tell you about my first play-through. I was immediately engrossed in the carnage and the completionist in my head said to get revenge on every single one of these men for imprisoning me, hunt them down, rip them apart and be rewarded by the satisfying cymbal crash... But no, as I picked up a dismembered arm to fling at another incoming enemy, a spray of bullets from a shotgun burst towards me, and then it hit me. I'm meant to escape.
In the beginning, I thought the game frustrating, but when I started actively trying to escape, it became the mad rush it was meant to be. New levels brought more surprises, in one level lingering close to a window meant getting shot by snipers, soon I encountered explosive experts, flamethrowers, mortars falling from the sky, the variation kept coming and made everything fresh, constantly pushing me to re-evaluate my strategy.
"In most games, procedural generation is there to add replayability and add very divergent outcomes. In this game, it's about forcing you to improvise. - Gabe Cuzzillo
You can't rely on knowing the layout of the building or position of the guards, you have to take each moment as it comes. For those that know me, I normally get turned off a game at the mention of procedural generation, there's no authorship to the design and structure, but in the case of Ape Out, it is for a reason and a reason that works for me.
You've got to admit, the music is pretty fantastic
So it's no wonder that during production, it became a linchpin and focus that Gabe Cuzzillo latched onto. "You've Got to Have Freedom" by saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, THAT is the linchpin that drove it home.
"It really spoke to me on a deep level" - Gabe Cuzzillo
But we're here to talk about the music in Ape Out, an algorithmic masterpiece of a score by Matt Boch. Double time drums set the pace and the rhythm of your heartbeat, growing louder and more intense as violence escalates. Loud cymbals crash into the track with every man you smash, ratatat of guns and explosions and the wet squishing sound of carpet drenched in blood. This is a symphony of carnage and the urgency to escape, blended into a head-bobbing jazz track that you control. Does it all fit and work? It most certainly does and it gives you the satisfaction that it was your rampage that created this soundtrack.
On top of this amazing soundtrack, we've got the sharp colours and shapes that pull you in and compliment the harshness of the saxophone. The inspiration for the art style sits heavily with Saul Bass, who is famous for strong colour, simplicity in shapes and lack of tonality that creates a striking image. This was brilliantly re-created by Bennet Foddy.
The tall parallel walls give that vertigo feel and tightness, making you feel like a rat, trapped in a maze as you scurry around looking for the exit and avoiding the dangers. This little detail took me a while to notice, but when I did I loved it. There is no health bar telling you how weak you are, but instead the more damage you take, the bigger the pool of blood that trails behind you. This is the kind of game design I love. When the visuals and music don't just look and sound good but work to make the game better.
As mentioned in the Pros and Cons, this is not a very long game and depending on your level of skill, you could complete this game in a very short time. Thankfully there is an arcade mode that scores you for how far you can get without dying and a harder difficulty mode too.
For me, those modes don't interest me. For others, it will add maybe an extra hour or two to your fun.
Ape Out is a hugely enjoyable game, it lived up to what I wanted and it gave me plenty of pleasant surprises that kept the repetitive gameplay fresh and interesting. The music is amazing (I'll be buying the soundtrack right after this) and the visuals were pure art for my eyes to drink up.
My only con is that the game was too short, but in actual fact, its a double-sided coin for me. Yes, it did not take long to finish the game, but at the same time, if it had lasted any longer, it would have risked becoming stale. The game was exactly as long as it should be, despite the brevity.
Still, I can't help but want more. More Albums and more music to smash people to the rhythm of. Highly recommend the game to anyone with anger problems, a love for jazz, or just wants a short game to enjoy. Or anyone really... I mean who doesn't like Apes, Jazz, and Violence?